American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

September 2005

Teaching American History Programs Update

This summer middle-school and high school teachers from Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island participating in ASHP/CML’s Teaching American History professional development program attended two four-day Summer Institutes. The workshops provided an opportunity for teachers from Regions 4 and 7 in the New York City public school system to use the historical information and approaches they had learned during the previous year to create classroom activities for the 2005-06 school year. Participants, led by historians and history educators, worked with sets of 10 to 15 documents, including photographs, cartoons, letters, and oral histories and then met in groups to create activities using the primary sources, such as devising document based questions, role playing situations, and debates. Teachers had an opportunity to model many of their activities in front of peers and to receive constructive feedback.

The Summer Institute also featured several guest presenters. For example, Eugene Resnick, a social studies teacher from Midwood High School in Brooklyn presented “Doing Local History,” about assignments he developed to teach major themes in U.S. history through students exploring their own neighborhoods. Terry Judson, Sara Wolf, and Michael Starkey from International High School in Queens conducted a workshop on adapting primary source materials for English as a Second Language and low-literacy learners.

Critical interrogation of documents was a key component of ASHP/CML’s Teaching American History 2005 Summer Institute (which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education). For example, teachers analyzed and discussed these photos, taken by Farm Security Administration photographer Jack Delano in October 1941, along with other primary sources, and then used them to create classroom activities on school segregation and racial discrimination in the Jim Crow South.

Farm Security Administration image, October 1941
“White Plains, Greene County, Georgia. The three-teacher Negro school.” (Library of Congress)
Farm Security Administration image, October 1941
“White Plains, Greene County, Georgia. Studying insects in a classroom at the…” (Library of Congress)

The Summer Institute’s focus on incorporating documents into the classroom was praised by participating teachers. As one teacher explained, “training our students to use primary sources makes them less dependent on us as teachers because they learn critical thinking.” Taking a student perspective, another participant exclaimed, “History is boring! But if we can move towards activities that arouse [students’] curiosity, engage them, and get them to ask questions, then we will achieve what we set out to do, and they’ll do better on the tests.” Another teacher put it succinctly: “Becoming better historians will make us better teachers.” ASHP/CML’s Teacher as Historian program kicked-off a three-year professional development collaboration with NYCDOE regional district 6 in Brooklyn. The program features four all-day seminars, intensive school-based mentoring, and after-school workshops with American history scholars and classroom educators. The goal of the program is to engage American history/social studies teachers in the process of advancing skills in historical studies and effective classroom instruction.

Ground One: Voices from Post-911 Chinatown

ASHP/CML’s in collaboration with the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, and NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute recently completed Ground One: Voices from Post-911 Chinatown. This project provides an in-depth portrait of the ways in which the identity of a community, largely neglected by national media following 9/11, was indelibly changed by that day. Ground One presents videotaped and transcribed interviews with 30 people who lived and worked in Chinatown, which

are fully searchable by theme, keyword, or interviewee in English and Chinese. Ground One enriches the collection and extends the mission of The September 11 Digital Archive to use electronic media to collect, preserve, and present the history of the 9/11 attacks.

Ground One: Voices from Post 9/11 Chinatown

ASHP/CML Awarded 2 New Teaching American History Grants

ASHP/CML in partnership with Region 3 and Region 4 of New York City public schools and the Program in Social Studies, Department of Secondary Education, Queens College, CUNY has been awarded two new Teaching American History grants by the U.S. Department of Education. The diverse urban schools served by the program have high numbers of students from low-income families, high rates of student failure in U.S. history, and significant numbers of teachers with little American history teaching experience. Activities include four day-long retreats with historians, four day-long retreats with history educators, a two-day leadership retreat, and the use of evaluation data designed to help improve instructional practice and student performance. Participants include 90 teachers in Grades 7, 8, and 11, and 15 social studies instructional supervisors; both groups will disseminate program insights and resources to all history teachers in their districts. The first year of the program focuses on “Defining and Refining Democracy” and includes topics such as the American Revolution, the Constitution, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The second year continues the theme with topics such as the Rise of Industrial America, the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement. The third year’s theme of “American Encounters” will introduce teachers to topics such as Mid 19th Century Immigration, Settling the West, and 20th Century Immigration.

Dance, Disasters, and Divinity! A New Media Lab Expo for the Graduate Center Community

On Wednesday, November 30th, the New Media Lab (NML) will host an event to showcase innovative work by CUNY faculty and doctoral students that incorporates new technology into their scholarship. The NML Expo will feature panel discussions and demonstrations that address the challenges posed by new media in doctoral training and the latest approaches to using interactive technology in the graduate classroom. Come, participate, and learn about the opportunities and benefits available to faculty and GC students at the New Media Lab.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005, 1 – 4:00 pm Martin Segal Theatre, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets)

Refreshments will be served.

Biography and the Practice of History: A Public Seminar

As biographies top bestseller lists and take up ever more shelf space at chain bookstores, some academic historians hold these popular publications at arm’s length and decry their narrow approach and lack of rigor. But what are the possibilities and limitations of biography as a medium for communicating history? As part of a series of public seminars on the presentation of the past, on December 20, 2005, ASHP/CML will host a conversation about history and biography at the City University of New York Graduate Center. A panel of historians and publishing professionals will address how scholars use biography as a form in interesting ways, recent publishing trends toward biographies of historical figures, and the tensions between the practice of academic history and the pressures of publishing and public tastes. Panelists will include:

  • Jennifer Fleischner, Professor of English at Hofstra University and author of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave
  • David Greenberg, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University; author of Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, and columnist for
  • David Nasaw, Distinguished Professor of History, The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst
  • Wendy Wolf, Executive Editor, Viking Penguin
  • Tuesday, December 20, 2005, 6 – 8 pm

Martin Segal Theatre, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets)
(Cosponsored with the Center for the Humanities)

A New Look for History Matters: Teaching the U.S. History Survey on the Web

Check out the new design of our award-winning online gateway and resource for teaching the U.S. past, History Matters with improved navigation to get you to the site’s most popular and useful features and a less somber (New York black) appearance!